One of the most significant paleontological finds ever has been unearthed in Myanmar, and it is no bigger than your average apricot. The tail of a tiny dinosaur, completely preserved and encased in amber, was dug up and sold to a scientist at a local market where people often go to buy scientific and historic curiosities.
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Xing Lida, a Chinese paleontologist, was picking through pieces of amber when he recognized the find. “I realized that the content was a vertebrate, probably theropod, rather than any plant,” Xing told CNN.
“I was not sure that [the trader from the camp pictured above] really understood how important this specimen was, but he did not raise the price.”
What makes this find so unique is that the tail offers a unique chance to see what a dinosaur really looked like. There is heated debate about the subject. Older theories cast dinosaurs as big lizards, while more modern interpretations suggest they look more like birds.
Details of the find are chronicled in this month’s issue of Current Biology.
“It’s a once in a lifetime find,” said Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchwan Museum. “The finest details are visible and in three dimensions.”
The tail is from a coelurosaurian. It is a meat-eating dinosaur, similar to a tiny tyrannosaurs. It would have been the size of a small song-bird.
“The more we see these feathered dinosaurs and how widespread the feathers are, things like a scaly velociraptor seem less and less likely and they’ve become a lot more bird like in the overall view,” McKellar said. “They’re not quite the Godzilla-style scaly monsters we once thought.”
The scientists studying the specimen believe the dinosaur was a brown hue, with shades of white. And it distinctly shows feathers. “It really underlines the importance of amber as an anchor for future study. We’re picking up features we couldn’t see in compressed sedimentary fossils, ” said McKellar.